Dr. P. K. Jena in Bhubaneswar, July 16, 2020: The Coronavirus Pandemic has shaken the whole world. India in particular is in deep economic trouble with industrial production seriously affected following months long lockdown and shut down.

Keeping the sordid state of affairs, the Indian government has announced a couple of packages. The most important of them is the “Rs 20 lakh crore Package” apparently to accelerate the implementation of “Atma Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan”

Both the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have said that these packages would boost agricultural and industrial production though judicious utilization of mineral and other resources, strengthening communication systems, providing advance education and training. These apart, these packages would ensure promoting health care and sanitation, skill development and provide employment opportunities to all citizens.

As the whole country is looking forward for successful implementation of the activities, it is important for the authorities to prioritize the following programmes to ensure rich dividends in the coming years.

Promoting eco-friendly mining and integrated development of mine areas for sustainable development: The mineral resources which are not replenish-able are most vital for industrial and hence socio-economic development of the country. Till now, most of the mines in different mineral rich states of India, are being leased out and the leaseholders practically mine most of the rich minerals leaving behind the low grade ones which are much more in quantity compared to the high grade ones. In due course, these left out low grade minerals ultimately get lost along with the overburden at the mine sites.

Further, most of the mining companies use backdated technology resulting in loss of large amounts of minerals, forest and water resources along with causing a lot of noise and dust pollution in the area. Mining scam is rampant in almost all mineral rich states of India. As a consequence of this, both the states and centre loose huge revenue, the local people live in polluted environment and harassed in various ways, large amounts of forests and water bodies get destroyed, and a lot of low grade minerals get lost along with the over burden.

Therefore, recent decision of government of India to auction the mines should give an opportunity to handover the mines to technically more advanced and experienced mining companies. In this process, it should be seen that, all acceptable grades of minerals are mined, and the low grade ones are upgraded.

Besides, the conditions provided in the auction should compel the auction holders to keep the area environment friendly by protecting other valuable resources like forest, water, soil etc., as well as back filling the mined areas and harvesting rainwater in the remaining mine pits to make the mine area productive and habitable after completion of mining.

By auctioning the mines with proper plan for mineral resource conservation along with development of other resources and implementing those strictly, all the stake holders including concerned government would benefit immensely. As a result, industry will prosper, minerals will be conserved and the mine areas would be productive and habitable even after mining.

In integrated mine area development programme, a large number of people will get employment. In order to make the mineral mining most effective, a high power committee representing all stakeholders should be formed for the mines in the region and the committee should inspect time to time the functioning of the mines, keeping in view the mining and environment management plan recommended by the government.

Extract more sponge iron to boost production of steel: In order to meet the increasing demand of steel with fast industrialization, India has to produce much more steel by utilizing the available resources. The most important bottleneck in this regard is the non-availability of coking coal in the country to produce iron in Blast Furnace (BF). The reserves of coking coal in the country is much less than that required for iron making in BF.

In view of this, it is necessary to produce iron by an alternate route that is Direct Reduction Iron (DRI) by using non coking coal. The DRI is also popularly known as sponge iron. In India, most of the sponge iron producers do not have captive mines of any of the required raw materials namely hematite, non-coking coal and limestone.

Therefore, they fully depend upon other agencies to get their raw materials. Now the major constraints being faced by these industries are high price and non-availability of quality raw materials. As a result, most of the units are producing sponge iron much below their capacity and some have been closed down.

In India, due to availability of large amounts of high grade hematite and non-coking coal, the sponge iron industry has tremendous scope for enhancing its production. As during the years to come we need large amounts of steel, it is essential to promote both the non-coking coal and gas based sponge iron industries. These industries besides supplying enough sponge iron for steel production, can provide a lot of employment to skilled and semiskilled people.

MGNREGA Funds be used substantially for Wetland Development: In recent decades, floods and droughts are occurring in different parts of the country more frequently because of improper management of land and water resources. Rapid deforestation and urbanization have helped most of the rainwater to drain out to the ocean. Nearly 20% of the area is drought prone and about 40 million hectares of the land are affected by flood.

Apart from this, the wastes and effluents of the industries and urban habitation are responsible for drastically polluting the surface as well as ground water bodies. In the country, the wetlands which include rivers, lakes, tanks, ponds, water logged areas etc., are vanishing and also getting polluted due to various anthropogenic activities. During last century, due to these activities, nearly 50% of our wetlands have vanished.

In order to increase the surface and ground water resources, it is essential to develop new wetlands and revive the old ones with rain water harvesting. The wetlands help in increasing the potential of surface water, recharging the ground water, flood control and water storage, wildlife conservation, production of food including pisciculture, reduction of atmospheric pollution and temperature moderation, drainage easement, improvement of waste water quality, reduction of soil erosion etc.

The rain water harvesting methods in wetlands depend on local conditions and include practices such as bunding, pitting, micro catchment, flood water and ground water harvesting etc. The wetlands development along with rain water harvesting programmes as mentioned above in different states and union territories of India, should be implemented using the funds earmarked in Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) involving the local people. Along with this fishery in wetlands would provide some more jobs to a large section of rural youths.

Harnessing Renewable Energy to Save fossil fuel and mitigating Hazards of Global Warming: Energy resource has become very important and is one of the basic needs for socio economic development of mankind. Energy security is therefore, imperative for sustained growth of our economy. At present, nearly 80% of global energy consumption is from various types of fossil fuels. The conventional fuels like coal, oil, wood and natural gas during their combustion cause pollution and are mostly responsible for global warming due to release of large amounts of oxides of carbon, sulphur and nitrogen along with particulate matters to the atmosphere.

a) Solar Energy: Solar energy is a viable alternative for power generation and has the highest global warming mitigation potential amongst the available clean energy sources. Further, it is the single largest source of energy available on this planet. The recent technologies have been able to encourage the use of solar energy in small scale in the form of concentrated solar power (CSP) and also large scale photovoltaic (PV) system which is able to feed into electricity grids. In order to save valuable lands as far as possible, efforts should be made to install solar energy producing units over water bodies.

b) Biomass Energy: Biomass consists of all organic materials that stems from plants, algae, trees, crops including all land and aquatic vegetation and also organic wastes such as agricultural and domestic wastes, animas dung, human excreta etc. In recent time, a lot of developments have taken place to extract energy and heat from various types of biomass including organic wastes in an environment friendly manner. The biochemical conversion to bio-energy can be carried out in two different ways namely, anaerobic digestion to produce methane and fermentation to produce methanol. Liquid bio fuels include ethanol, produced from fermentation of sugars and biodiesel through transesterification of vegetable oils.

c) Wind Energy: The scope of wind power to supply clean energy to replace fossil fuels, is one of the important ones. Wind power is the conversion of wind energy into a useful form of energy such as using wind turbine to make electrical power, wind mills for mechanical power, wind pumps for water pumping and wind power to propel ships. The modern wind turbine is based on the principle of converting energy of the wind into electrical energy. There is a great scope for production and utilization of wind energy in India and the technology is also available. The merits of wind power are, it is plentiful, renewable, widely distributed, clean, no cost for the fuel and uses little land.

d) Small Hydro Power: Hydro Power can be harnessed easily from flowing water from higher altitude to the lower ones. When water is falling by the force of gravity it can be used to turn turbines and generators that produce electricity. Harnessing energy from hydro power can be more consistent by supplying water through dams. Dams store water for producing hydro power as well as it can be utilized for irrigation, domestic and industrial purposes.
At present only 16% of the total energy used in the world is obtained from renewable energy sources. Better technology should be developed to make renewable energy more competitive to fossil fuels. With respect to use of renewable energy resources, India is very much lagging behind many countries like USA, Germany, Japan and even China. It should take further necessary steps to harness and utilize the abundant renewable resources available in the country, so that the limited fossil fuels resource can be selectively utilized with better technology to drastically minimize the green house gasses and particulate matters in our environment.

Prioritize Skill Development in Rural India: In India, as per 2001 census, about 72.2% of the total population are living in about 638,000 villages and remaining 27.8% live in about 5,380 cities, towns and urban agglomerations. Most of the country’s landmass belong to rural area and are highly rich in various natural resources like fertile land, water bodies, forests and minerals. In spite of all these resources, compared to urban India, the living standard of the rural people is very poor; most of them are small farmers or daily labourers and many are unemployed.

On an average, a farmer’s family in rural India earns about Rs 6000 per year which is a meager amount to have a decent living. In view of all these, it is very important to take immediate steps to empower the villagers through proper education and skill development and create enough facilities to generate employment opportunities in various developmental programmes by utilizing the vast and varied natural resources of the region. Some of the important employment potential areas for skill development, are post-harvest operation of different crops, agro industries, water resource management, fishery, afforestation, mining and mineral processing in mineral rich areas, harnessing renewable energy resources etc. The rural mass should be thus trained and employed suitably in various developmental activities and industries, so that most of them have better socio economic life. It is therefore, essential to prioritize the skill development programmes in rural India for better utilization of its rich resources while generating employment opportunity.

Five Activities to Improve Farmer’s Living Standard: While about 14% of the total workforce in developed countries are engaged in Agro Industrial Sectors, in India only about 3% of the work force find employment in this vital sector. It is widely realized that, poverty alleviation can happen by providing employment opportunities and pushing economic development in rural areas through provision of sufficient water for irrigation, organic compost and pesticides for increasing crop production, extensive use of solar energy, wind energy and biogas, adopting better post-harvest technology, creating storage facilities to avoid loss of agro products and development of Agro Industries. It is suggested that, in all the rural areas following five activities should be developed involving farmers’ family with proper training.

a) Development of Wetlands with Rain Water Harvesting, (b) Production of Compost and Fuel gas from Organic wastes, (c) Extensive use of Solar and wind Energy, (d) Application of Post-Harvest Technology and (e) Development of Agro Industries.

In this integrated programme, proper implementation, monitoring and evaluation by experts should be carried out. The degree of success of the programme is going to be a measure of the living standard of the farmers.

* (Former Director General, CSIR,India)

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